amethyst2011slide

Amethyst Basin, Uintas, July 2011

Posted by on Jul 26, 2011

My first backpacking trip to the Uintas was a 3-day trip into Amethyst Basin way back in 2003. I was SO hooked. On that trip we camped at Toomset Lake and day hiked up through Ostler Lake and BR-24. We had planned on day hiking up to Amethyst Lake as well but we spent so much time wandering around and fishing that we had run out of time and had to get back to Toomset before dark.

A couple years later I went out on a solo trip to Amethyst Basin. Once again I camped at Toomset Lake and once again, I ended up not making it to Amethyst Lake. Frustrating. I felt like I couldn’t check this place off my list until I actually made it to Amethyst Lake so this year I decided it was time for a third trip into Amethyst Basin.

My good friend Nate recently moved to Park City so it made for an easy escape to the mountains for this trip. We were both able to leave work in Park City a little after noon and be to the trailhead by 2pm. It was nice to drive over Bald Mountain Pass again. The last time I was here in late June, the highway was still closed and the snow was widespread.

The trail to Amethyst starts at the Christmas Meadows Trailhead on the north slope of the Uintas, a few miles off of the Mirror Lake Highway. It’s one of the more popular trails with three spectacular basins to be explored. Most only see Amethyst and for those, the majority seem to day hike straight to Amethyst Lake and back. The mileage directly to Amethyst Lake is about 6.5 miles one way. Here is a map of the area along with the route logged by my GPS on this trip. Note that there are no trails to Ostler or Toomset Lakes and that a good map and route finding skills are required to get to them.


View larger map in new window.

The trail follows along the side of Christmas Meadows for about 2.5 miles before splitting east towards Amethyst Basin. It’s not the most obvious junction, the sign is a little high in the tree. Last year I ran into a group 2 miles past this that had no idea they had blown right past their turn. Two easy ways to make sure you don’t miss it. First, the High Uintas Wilderness sign is very obvious and is a few hundred feet before the junction. Second, the trail crosses Ostler Fork a few hundred feet beyond the junction. Sometimes there is a makeshift bridge there, sometimes there isn’t. In the five separate years I’ve been to the crossing, there has only been a trustworthy bridge one time, in 2010. Fortunately it usually isn’t too difficult to find a reasonable place to cross.

We hurried through those first 2.5 miles before stopping for a quick break near the junction. Thanks to my friend Tim, I was recently introduced to the SteriPen water purifier. After a couple of trips with Tim I bought my own and now taking a break is awesome. I keep my SteriPen Adventurer Opti on the outside of my pack with my Nalgene bottle and each time we stop to sit I fill it up and drink at least a liter of clean, cold, fresh mountain water. No pumping, no heavy filter, no nasty taste. Just stir it around for a minute or so and you have clean water. Magical I tell you. No more sucking it all through a little hose and no more carrying excessive water on the trail. If you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. From the junction, the trail gets very steep as it climbs into Amethyst Basin.

The Ostler Fork is quite the sight as it cascades down the slope alongside the trail. For those that only day hike Christmas Meadows, it would be well worth it to hike a few hundred feet up the trail to Amethyst just to see the waterfalls.

The trees thin out a bit as the trail hits its steepest section, offering a view into West Basin which holds Kermsuh Lake.

Once past the steep section the trail mellows out a bit and winds in and out of meadows and dense forest as it continues deeper into Amethyst Basin. We planned on hiking to Ostler Lake to setup a base camp where Tim, Erin and Jake would be meeting us the next day. They were getting a later start and camping down in Christmas Meadows. Nikita and Sonny evaluate the route as we find our way overland to Ostler Lake.

10 minutes earlier and we could have done this in direct sunlight. That was some mighty cold water. On the way out we found a much better way to cross if we had stayed on the main trail until it hit the river.

It took us a while to finally get to camp. Travel around the east side of Ostler was more rugged than the west side that I had hiked previously.

Nate purifies water as the alpenglow goes off.

Nate and I

It was sad to not have any clouds around for sunset but I was happy once the stars started coming out.
Ostler Lake

Ostler

The Milky Way

We were up late into the night, the views were spectacular with the Milky Way and all of the stars. The moon started to light up the ridge behind camp around 1:30.

Moonrise

And by 2:30 or 3 the entire basin was glowing.
Single Exposure



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After the late night taking pictures, Saturday morning came early. It felt good to lay out on the grass and not even think about having to be anywhere or do anything. The light was nice the water was smooth and the fish were rising.

Nikita giving Nate a wake-up call. This is a ritual in our camp. Sonny visits me, Nikita visits Nate, tails are wagged vigorously.

Right at noon Tim and the rest of the crew arrived in camp. We had been planning on day hiking up to Amethyst Lake together but the consensus shifted towards a more relaxing day around Ostler and then day hiking Amethyst on the way out the next day. The fishing wasn’t going very well so a few of us took a dip in Ostler Lake. That’s me doing the back float. Tim took the picture.

After the swim the fishing turned around and I caught two good sized Cutthroats almost back to back on a Beadhead Hare’s Ear.

Cutthroat

Tim learning to gut the fish later in the evening.

A few nice, fluffy clouds popped up in the afternoon.

I was really hoping the clouds might stick around for sunset but it was not to be. Fortunately the alpenglow didn’t dissapoint. That’s Tim and Erin taking photos down by the shore.
Amethyst Basin

Ostler Lake

After dark Tim and Jake started taking star photos and I stayed in camp and worked on the last Steel Reserve. Well into the evening I decided to setup for one more star trail.
Camp Trails

The next morning came with some bad news. Tim’s knee, which he had injured while stretching Saturday morning, had gotten much worse. The swelling was looking really bad and his range of motion was decreasing. So Tim and Erin decided to hike straight back to the trailhead rather than tack on another few miles to see Amethyst Lake. So we said goodbye and headed off towards Amethyst. Jake came along even though he was riding with Tim & Erin. His plan was to hike with us to Amethyst and then race down the trail to catch up with them.

The terrain on the west side of Ostler is very picturesque and easy to walk through. Quite different than the east side.

Looking back at Ostler Lake

Jake and the dogs descending towards lake BR-24 where we will reconnect with the trail. This has to be one of the most beautiful lakes without a proper name.

Looking up towards Amethyst Lake and the top of the basin.
Lake BR-24

Approaching Amethyst Lake

And there it was. Amethyst Lake. I was so very happy to finally make it here on this my third trip into the basin. The lake was almost completely free of ice except for one section below some of the chutes on the east side of the lake. A week earlier, Dan Ransom was here and the lake was 70-80% ice. Check out his photos and trip report on his website.

We had left our packs down at BR-24 and I was thirsty. Talk about drinking from the source.
Clear Water

Hiking back to the packs at Lake BR-24.

The huge meadow below BR-24 and Ostler. Great place to fly fish the deep channels.

Uh oh! Nikita had some trouble with this log crossing.

I was heading back to pull her out but she did it on her own.

The last good look at Ostler Peak and the Amethyst Cirque before heading into the trees and back to Christmas Meadows.

Tired dogs as the trail heads back into Christmas Meadows.

Not much else to say about this trip. It was good. Really good. Amethyst is typically a busier than average place so don’t expect solitude except maybe at Toomset Lake or in the meadows. We shared Ostler lake with one other group the first night and two the second. They were both plenty far away so it was fine but sharing none the less. During the day several groups day hiked in and fished Ostler. If I were doing it again I think I might camp near the big meadows below BR-24 and Ostler. You’d have more solitude and if you’re a fly fisherman, those winding channels are a blast.

View the full set of photos on Flickr.

See more of my trip reports to the High Uintas Wilderness.

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18 Comments

  1. avatar
    Dan
    July 26, 2011

    sweet TR nick. dude, do you ever go to sleep? cool night shots.

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      July 28, 2011

      Thanks, Dan. What’s this ‘sleep’ you speak of?

      Reply
  2. avatar
    Dave Johnson
    July 27, 2011

    Looks great. How would say the Uintas compare to Logan Canyon as far as beauty, hiking trails, fishing, etc? I might be moving to Draper in the next year but I am having a hard time leaving Logan because of all the recreational opportunities and the proximity to the mountains and of course, Bear Lake. Any advice would be appreciated. I’ll check back in a couple of days. Thanks

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      July 28, 2011

      Thanks, Dave. I’d say the Uintas have Logan Canyon beat on pretty much all fronts. The biggest thing Logan Canyon has going for it is solitude. It seems like it’s not that hard to get away from the crowds up there while in the Uintas you have to work for it. Oh and being into the canyon 5 minutes out of town is pretty dang nice too. The best stuff around Logan, IMO is in the Naomi Wilderness, which is super nice but it lacks that high elevation feel of the Uintas. It’s pretty tough to beat the area near and above timberline and the ability to just travel freely, no trails needed a lot of the time.

      The hardest adjustment I’ve made with living in Salt Lake rather than Cache Valley is the Wasatch Mountains. They’re packed to the brim and dogs aren’t welcome in a lot of places. I tend to avoid them completely.

      Reply
  3. avatar
    Nick Gough
    July 29, 2011

    Great report Nick. I was here 6 years ago. I thought Amethyst Lake was awesome. I’m heading to Bald Lake in a couple days. Thanks again for the info on this area. I’ll let you know how it goes. Thanks !

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      August 2, 2011

      Thanks, Nick. Looking forward to hearing about your Bald trip!

      Reply
  4. avatar
    Stephanie
    July 31, 2011

    Wonderful trip report (as always). Beautiful color on those lakes! Thanks for sharing. Pics rock!

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      August 2, 2011

      Thanks, Stephanie!

      Reply
  5. avatar
    Art
    August 1, 2011

    Nice report Nick, thanks !

    This is a standard hiking location once or twice a year for me – for the last twenty years. What are you calling BR-24? The small lake almost half way between Ostler and Amethyst?

    Here is a tip…. You can make a nice backpack loop to here by coming down the col just south of Ostler Peak (from above Lightning lake in upper Rock Creek) right to Amethyst lake. We did it from the Highline trailhead on the MLH and up and over Rocky Sea Pass. Three days, two nights with packs and dog. The descent to Amethyst is steep talus so a little sketch but once you and doggie get used to the scree glissading skill it is not too bad.

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      August 2, 2011

      Thanks, Art. Yes, that little lake between Ostler and Amethyst is BR-24. What a pretty lake. I hadn’t considered crossing over behind Amethyst to Rock Creek but that sounds awesome. I love Rock Creek and I love point-to-point hikes.

      Reply
      • avatar
        Art
        August 3, 2011

        Nick,
        I’ve made star trail pics before. Your stationary milky way pics are outstanding! I can do the same at home with my telescope and my star tracking mount but HOW do you do that out in the field on a backpack??? They look like minute(s) long exposure. Or a very large opening lens. Well done!

        Also, if you e me maybe we can trade some Uintahs loops off line.

        And last question, since the USGS does not call that lake BR-24 how did it get that name and where did you see it? Some fishing source?

        Reply
        • avatar
          Nick
          August 5, 2011

          Thanks, Art. The Milky Way pics are 30 seconds long at f/3.5 and ISO 3200 with my camera mounted to a standard tripod (Manfrotto carbon fiber). If I had a faster wide lens that would’ve been awesome but 3.5 is the best mine can do. I’ve tried some at higher ISO but noise starts to get excessive. And I’ve found that anything longer than than 30 seconds gets too much star blur, at least without a star tracking mount. Speaking of which, that is awesome that you have one! I’ve looked at those and dreamed of putting on a really long, really fast lens and getting some deep space shots but that’s quite the investment!

          I found the BR-24 name in a couple of books I have for the Uintas. The book by the Probst brothers as well as a Utah fishing book. I’ve also seen some maps that show all of the numbers of each lake. Even the ones with names have a number designation up there. They just count up all the lakes in each drainage like that. So the BR in this case is for Bear River. Over in the Weber drainage they’re W-59, etc.

          Happy to share loops although I probably don’t have too many that you don’t know about. I’ll send you an email.

          Reply
          • avatar
            Art
            August 5, 2011

            Interesting.

            I am on the way to start my long planned crossing of the range on the High Line under a building high pressure. w00t !! I’ll reply to your E when I finish. Too bad we have a waxing moon.

            Keep the faith….in wilderness.

          • avatar
            Nick
            August 12, 2011

            Right on Art. I’m planning a Highline trip next August under a new moon. Sounds like a blast.

  6. avatar
    Beth Parry
    August 13, 2011

    Hi there,

    This is kind of a long shot, but I’ve searching blogs for recent hikes in Utah in the area you have been in, please read this and forward it on to any friends you have who may have seen my Uncle Eric, any snippet of information may be vital to the search. This is absolutely not spam and you may have even heard about him in your local news and been in touch already.
    ‘Missing Hiker on Highline Trail, Uintas, Utah
    My good friend, 63 year old Eric Robinson from Australia, set off to thru hike the Highline Trail 7.28.11. He was scheduled to finish Sunday 8.7.11. He is now 2 days overdue. No word has been heard from him or of him. Please Call Sherriff Mitchell at 435.738.2015 or Julia Geisler 415.695.4502 if you are available for the next few days to join the search or have any info.’
    Thanks,

    Beth Parry.

    Reply
    • avatar
      Nick
      August 13, 2011

      Hi Beth. I have heard about your friend, Eric. I’m not able to join in the search but I did post about it on a much busier forum site called bogley.com. It is mostly Utah-based outdoors enthusiasts. I just added what you posted above to that post. Here is the link: http://www.bogley.com/forum/showthread.php?58109-Man-missing-on-Uinta-Highline-Trail. Best wishes that they find Eric safe. With all the extra snow this year its very possible he just couldn’t complete the route. Dead Horse Pass in particular could be a big challenge.

      Reply
  7. avatar
    Art
    August 14, 2011

    Hi Nick,

    Finished the high line crossing Friday night safe and sound. Resting up to head out looking for Eric. Email me for details please.

    Art

    Reply
  8. avatar
    julia geisler
    August 14, 2011

    Calling Volunteers! Missing Hiker on Highline Trail, Uintas, Utah
    My good friend, 63 year old Eric Robinson from Australia, set off to thru hike the Highline Trail 7.28.11. He was scheduled to finish Sunday 8.7.11. He is now 7 days overdue. Please Call Sherriff Mitchell at 435.738.2015 or Julia Geisler 415.695.4502 if you are available for the next few days to join the search or have any info. Especially if you hiked the trail and talked or met Eric.

    Reply

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